The Vienna Group’s ‘Research for’ the Language Arts: Konrad Bayer, “karl ein karl” (1962)

In: Artistic Research and Literature
Author: Tan Wälchli
Open Access

Abstract:

In the 1960’s, when the assumption that the artist could or should also be a researcher gained momentum in a variety of ‘conceptual’ artistic practices, the Vienna Group of young poets was concerned with similar explorations at the intersection of language arts, visual arts and performative arts. The main aim of their ‘artistic research’ avant la lettre was the development of innovative forms of literature. The article distinguishes a number of such new forms and analyses more closely a 1962 piece by Konrad Bayer, in which the striving for a ‘research’-based renewal of the language arts turns out to be closely related to an eminently political task: exposing and overcoming the lasting imprint of National Socialism in language and culture.

The Vienna Neo-Avant-Garde and the Rise of Artistic Research Practices avant la lettre

In 1962, the 32-year-old Gerhard Rühm, one of the founding members of the Vienna Group of young poets,1 published a short programmatic text about the “new theater” in an architectural journal. At the outset, he declares that the “new theater” has to be based on the most comprehensive “idea” of the “means and capabilities of theater,” and that he will develop this idea “by reviewing the elements of the theater.” He promises an “analysis and differentiation” of the different “areas of theater.”2

The first of these areas is “language,” and here Rühm distinguishes, among other facets, the “sounds” of language from its “scripts,” according to the respective human faculties of “hearing” and “reading.” He also distinguishes language with a “communicative function” from language that is entirely “detach[ed]” from its “meaning.”3 Communication through language, according to Rühm, can be further enhanced by choice of “typefaces and sizes, arrangement on the sheet of paper, etc.,” or, if language is spoken, by “stress, tone color, direction of sound and the like.” If language has no communicative function, this may result in what Rühm calls, within quotation marks, “script pictures”—in German: “Schriftbilder—or “sound poems,” i.e. “Lautdichtungen.”4

These deliberations about the role of language in theatre constitute only about a tenth of Rühm’s text. Similarly, he details various possible uses of the “voice,” the “stage,” and “light.”5 He also differentiates various appearances of “humans”—naked or dressed-up—and “puppets,”6 as well as “basic types” of “spatial conditions,” such as various sizes and functions of the theatre building.7 Last but not least Rühm discusses methodologies of “performance,” differentiating, for example, “fixed theater” from “spontaneous theater.” He also emphasises how the “size,” “social composition,” and “mood” of the audience can vary.8

All of this shows how comprehensive Rühm’s ‘idea’ of the ‘means and capabilities of theatre’ is. He presents an overview of various theatrical ‘elements’ and distinguishes between their possible uses: language can be charged with meaning or lack it, verging on sound or noise; the human body can be naked or dressed; the voice can be natural or artificial, loud or soft, etc. The awareness of this almost boundless potential then provides the ‘basic’ for what Rühm calls ‘the new theatre.’ It allows a vast range of practical experiments, bringing about an almost endless panoply of new theatrical forms. These might range from a naked person sitting on a dark giant stage in an opera house; to a person on a medium-sized stage—and let some lights go on—uttering meaningless sounds; or two people—dressed-up, why not?—singing or speaking a sentence on a small stage in a bar or cafe; to a group of actors making noise or chanting along. All of these forms and many more are conceivable even before stage design, interaction, or dialogue would come up, and, still less, action or a plot.

The historical records leave little doubt that Rühm’s programmatic text was largely in accordance with the theatrical activities of the Vienna Group. For some years—starting, in fact, before Rühm published his text—the Group staged a variety of experimental performative events such as readings (with or without music), happenings, music shows, and more complex theatre and opera productions. The changing locations encompassed bars, art clubs and galleries, as well as small theatres.9 The same experimental approach, of course, characterises many of the by now famous prose texts and poems that members of the Group produced. In accordance with Rühm’s analysis of the ‘elements’ and ‘capabilities’ of language, the Vienna Group explored the boundaries between communicative and meaningless language. They let language turn into sound, noise, or ‘script pictures’ and experimented with typography and layout in order to enhance or manipulate the communicative function of language. As a consequence, their works sometimes expanded the traditional publication formats of literature, crossing into the field of visual arts. Some members produced something that could be called early artist’s books, and some of Rühm’s ‘script pictures,’ for example, were hung on the walls of galleries.

While these multifaceted new practices stirred considerable controversy in the cultural circles of the Vienna bourgeoisie, they were subsequently recognised and have since been given a canonical place in the history of Austrian literature and art.10 They are also considered as precursors for international artistic movements such as situationism, word-based art, and conceptual art.11 As I will argue below, yet another art-historical lineage becomes discernible from today’s vantage: some of the group’s works might also be understood as precursors to what is now called ‘artistic research.’

The quasi-scientific rigour in Rühm’s systematic ‘differentiation and analysis’ of theatrical and language ‘elements’ is hard to overlook, and it appears fitting that over some years, the group found itself studying ‘linguistic science’ as well as Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language.12 Such inquiries into the ‘means and possibilities’ of language—and the language arts—could be said to constitute a first step of ‘research,’ and a second step is the experimental development of new theatrical and literary forms.13 Similar kinds of two-step processes have recently been termed ‘research to’ or ‘research for art.’ These particular currents of artistic research conduct inquiries into the technical, media-specific and formal possibilities of the arts and, via innovations in these fields, enable manifold practical experiments that may result in the development of new artistic forms.14

Ever since artistic research gained international currency, in the 1990’s, ruminations about historical precursors, or even role models, were part of the discourse. The reason for this was that the rise of ‘artistic research’ had primarily been instigated by the political decision to turn art schools into universities so that the theoretical debate on possible approaches and outcomes often preceded the establishment of practices. In this situation, the search for historical models played a considerable role in the constitution and legitimisation of the field.15 Yet, tracing historical precursors cannot only provide legitimisation, but it can also contribute to a new genealogical understanding of how artistic research was conceived. Indeed, although the political decisions were key, certain artistic practices from the second half of the 20th century also contributed to that development. Some currents of neo-avant-garde and conceptual art, in particular, had already embraced elements of academic research culture such as programmatic writing, theoretical sketches, word-based art forms, conceptual works, etc. This made it relatively easy for artists with these backgrounds to fill the new teaching/research positions that were created when art schools were transformed into universities.16

This genealogical vantage point allows contextualising the Vienna Group’s ‘research’ practices. The group obviously participated in the neo-avant-garde momentum,17 and some of their works came to resemble pieces of conceptual art. While Rühm’s “basic for the new theater” bears similarities to certain programmatic writings by conceptual artists, his ‘script pictures’ employ language in similar mechanical and ‘scientific’ ways as conceptual works from around the same time.18 However, the roles assigned to the artist/researcher in the Vienna Group and conceptual art do not entirely overlap. For Rühm and his fellows, programmatic writing was not an artistic medium per se, but rather it provided the basics for the creation of new, experimental texts, and these included not just mechanical ‘script pictures,’ but any innovative work of poetry, prose, or drama—even when remaining within the more traditional publication formats of literary journals or textbooks.

Another particularity of the Vienna Group’s ‘conceptual’ practices can be seen in the cultural and political situation in Austria. For some members of the Group, the striving for artistic innovation was not exclusively instigated by the neo-avant-garde momentum, but partly also by discontent with the status quo of German language and culture, which they perceived to be deeply corrupted by the legacy of National Socialism. Not unlike other Austrian writers of their generation such as Ingeborg Bachmann, for example, they considered the fundamental renewal of the German language and culture a foremost task of contemporary literature.19 Among others, this was one rationale for the practices of ‘research for the arts’ sketched out so far.

But how exactly was the perceived legacy of National Socialism addressed in ‘conceptual’ practices? How should such practices ‘denazify’ the German language? As an example, I will now examine a short prose piece by Konrad Bayer (1931–1964), called “karl ein karl,” which was first published in a literary magazine in 1962. While generally in line with the ‘research’ objectives presented by Rühm in the “theater” essay of the same year, Bayer’s short text will turn out to be a particularly illuminating case. It allows, on the one hand, to discern a number of rather different conceptual approaches to the development of innovative literary forms. On the other hand, “karl ein karl” allows observing more closely how one such approach aimed at exposing and overcoming remains of National Socialist language pertinent in Austrian everyday culture of the time.

“karl ein karl”: Konrad Bayer and the Research for a New German Literature after the Second World War

Refraining from any typographic or layout experiments, “karl ein karl” is rather conventionally parted into some longer and shorter paragraphs, containing slightly less than 1,000 words in total. Very unconventionally, however, every third (or so) word is the word “karl.” In fact, “karl” is the only noun ever used in the text. As a consequence, the main agent of each sentence appears to be a person named “karl.” For example: “karl stösst auf.” [which can either mean “karl burps.” or “karl bumps into.”]; “aber karl gibt nicht auf.” [“but karl doesn’t give up.”]; or “und karl stirbt.” [“and karl dies.”].20

In other sentences, however, two or more people called “karl” are involved. For example, the phrase “da stösst karl auf karl und karl verstösst karl” [“here” or “then” “karl” “meets karl” or “bumps into karl”; and “karl repudiates karl”] leaves open whether the two interactions refer to the same two persons or whether three or four “karls” participate. In yet other, quite numerous cases, “karl” also takes the position of an object that a person named “karl” is handling. This is the case, for example, in the very first sentence of the text, “der verzweifelte karl greift zum karl,” where the “zum” indicates that the second “karl”—grabbed by the first one—is rather an object than a person. In another phrase, “karl und karl befällt ein karl,” the third occurrence of the word seems to denote a mood or sickness that overcomes two “karls”. Quite a few sentences, finally, contain so many instances of “karl” that it becomes impossible to judge which objects are denoted, or how many persons and objects are involved: “karl und karl karl mit seinem karl von karl auf karls karl in den karl geführt und durch karls karl nicht weit von karl entfernt blicken fragend auf karl.”

While Bayer’s technique is rather simple, he follows Rühm’s objectives of ‘research for literature’ quite closely. He explores the ‘means and possibilities’ of an ‘element’ of language—namely the word “karl”—and, applying these newly understood means, he develops an innovative piece of literature. But which possibilities of the word are used and what are the particularities of the resulting literary form? Does Bayer vary and expand the meaning of “karl” to the point where the word runs the risk of being stripped of its “communicative function” and reduced to its materiality—like in a “sound poem,” or in a typical work of “concrete poetry”?21 Does he present a sceptical view according to which language fails to produce stable meanings, as one could argue in the sense of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, for example?22 Or does Bayer compose a “mechanical” or “automated” text—expanding on, for example, surrealist theories of écriture automatique—to highlight the changing roles of language in the age of information theory and computing?23

For sure, all these interpretive vantage points have their validity for certain works by the Vienna Group. “karl ein karl,” however, primarily seems to be representative for the group’s aforementioned interest in linguistic science. Provided that Bayer developed a series of changing meanings of the word “karl,” one could think, for example, of Roman Jakobson’s analysis of two fundamental principles of language. As Jakobson detailed in 1956, the meaning of a word depends both on the relations of contiguity with adjacent words (what Jakobson called the metonymic pole of language) as well as on relations of similarity with words that it can substitute (the metaphoric pole).24 Along the same lines, Bayer seems, on the one hand, to have inquired how the meaning of “karl” can vary when used in ever-new connections with various verbs and prepositions (contiguity). On the other hand, he explored the extent to which “karl” can substitute other nouns while still producing some meaning (similarity).25

The most striking feature of the resulting literary form is the modular composition out of individual sentences that appear unrelated to each other.26 However, the selection and alignment of the sentences are by no means accidental (nor ‘mechanical’). In fact, Bayer is delineating the changing meaning of “karl” in very particular relations of contiguity and similarity. Consider the verbs appearing in the sentences mentioned above—such as “burping” (or “bumping into”), “grabbing,” “giving up,” “dying”—as well as the tools or sicknesses/moods that are substituted by “karl.” While some of the substitutions remain ambiguous or even obscure, they, together with the verbs, provide a sense of action that develops as the text progresses: it appears to be a series of rather violent interactions between the various “karls” that come about mostly uncontrolled or even involuntary, and which are fuelled by a certain desperation (“der verzweifelte karl”). One could tentatively speak of slapstick, a perception enhanced by Bayer’s technique of repetition and variation, as well as those moments when the word “karl” risks to lose all meaning, leaving the action in utter darkness. (This seems to be the case not only for the reader but also for most of the “karls” involved, who at the end of the long sentence quoted above “blicken fragend auf karl”—as if in the end at least one of them still knew what was going on.)

Due to the particular choice of words combined with “karl,” then, Bayer’s ‘research’ method not only produces an innovative modular form of prose but also a particular ‘slapstick’ narrative. But what is the significance of this narrative? This is where the political complex sketched out above comes into play, for the word “karl,” far from being chosen randomly or merely for its particular sound, evokes an eminently political subtext. Reminiscent of Charlemagne (768–814)—the founding father of the later Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations—as well as of Charles I. of Austria (1887–1922)—who was forced to resign as emperor after the First World War—the word encapsulates the founding of the ‘first’ empire and the demise of the ‘second’. That is, it encapsulates the historical conditions of possibility for the ‘third,’ National Socialist empire, which after the defeat of the ‘Second Reich’ attempted to re-establish the empire in a new form—greater and more glorious than ever before.

Fig. 17.1
Fig. 17.1

Konrad Bayer reading his poem “franz war” during the Vienna Group’s first literary cabaret, Dec. 6, 1958. A monograph on the Habsburg monarchy lies on the table. Photo: Franz Hubmann. ©Imagno / picturedesk.com.

Against this background, the multi-layered political intervention of Bayer’s new narrative becomes discernible. First, “karl ein karl” can be said to diagnose an enduring omnipresence of the word “karl” in the everyday language of the 1950’s and thus an enduring omnipresence of the idea of the empire. Second, in his ‘Jakobsonian’ experiments, Bayer diagnoses the multiple ways in which the word actually fails to produce its centuries-old common meaning and is subject to the general linguistic functioning of language. Accordingly, the slapstick narrative details how the subject position of “karl,” the emperor per se, appears to be desperately upheld although it is unable to produce coherent, reasonable acts that would constitute an organised group (and much less an entire state or society). Third, Bayer’s text supplements political-cultural diagnosis with an attempt at performative intervention: highlighting the various changing meanings of the word “karl” as well as the uncontrolled slapstick acts originating from the emperor’s subject position, Bayer tries to further undermine the afterlife which the idea of the empire enjoyed after 1945.

The experimental and innovative text, based on ‘Jakobsonian’ inquiries into the ‘means and capabilities’ of the word “karl,” thus arises out of a fundamental political discontent.27 In this regard, Bayer’s approach significantly differs from some of the literary forms developed by his fellow Vienna Group members, such as ‘sound poems,’ ‘concrete poetry,’ Wittgensteinian language plays, or Surrealist écriture automatique. While such forms are primarily aimed at exposing the fundamental materiality, meaninglessness, or ambiguity of language in general, Bayer exposes how, at a certain moment in history, a political keyword loses its long valid, singular meaning. This indicates that the Vienna group’s ‘research for the literary arts’ avant la lettre not only pursued various strategies but also arose from a variety of very different concerns and motivations.

Bibliography

  • Arens Katherine , Vienna’s Dreams of Europe. Culture and Identity beyond the Nation-State. New York, NY et al.: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2015.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Backes Michael , Experimentelle Semiotik in Literaturavantgarden. Über die Wiener Gruppe mit Bezug auf die Konkrete Poesie. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2001.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bayer Konrad , „karl ein karl“ (1962), in: Sämtliche Werke. Vol. II: Prosa, Konkrete Texte, ed. by Gerhard Rühm . Stuttgart: Klett Cotta, 1985, pp.8688.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boatin Janet , Dichtungsmaschine aus Bestandteilen. Konrad Bayers Werk in einer Kulturgeschichte der frühen Informationsästhetik. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Caduff Corina et al., eds., Art and Artistic Research. Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2010.

  • Eder Thomas /Juliane Vogel , eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008.

  • Elkins James , ed., What Do Artists Know? University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.

  • Hilder Jamie , Designed Words for a Designed World. The International Concrete Poetry Movement, 1955–1971. Montreal, London, Chicago, IL: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jakobson Roman . “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (1956), in: Roman Jakobson , Selected Writings. Vol. 2: Word and Language. The Hague, Paris: Mouton, 1971, pp. 239259.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klemperer Victor , The Language of the Third Reich. LTI: Lingua tertii imperii. A Philologist’s Notebook (1947), translated by Martin Brady . London, New York, NY: Continuum, 2006.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kosler Hans-Christian , “‘Neo-Avantgarde?’ Anmerkungen zur experimentellen Literatur,” in: W. Martin Lüdke , ed., ‘Theorie der Avantgarde.’ Antworten auf Peter Bürgers Bestimmung von Kunst und bürgerlicher Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976, pp. 252267.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mersch Dieter , Epistemologies of Aesthetics (2015), translated by Laura Radosh . Zurich: diaphanes, 2015.

  • Müller Sabine , “Die Wiener Gruppe, wi(e)dererinnert. Zu einer historischen Gemengelage von kommunikativem Beschweigen, stilistischem Protest und Sprachskepsis,” in: Roman Horak et al., eds., Randzone. Zur Theorie und Archäologie von Massenkultur in Wien 1950–1970. Vienna: Turia+Kant, 2004, pp. 219240.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Neuner Florian /Stefan Neuner , “Zwischen Selbstorganisation und Selbstbehauptung,” in: Thomas Eder /Juliane Vogel , eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008, pp. 133159.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rühm Gerhard , “basics of the new theater” (1962), in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel . Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, pp. 620624.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rühm Gerhard , “Vorwort,” in: Die Wiener Gruppe. Achleitner. Artmann. Bayer. Rühm. Wiener. Texte, Gemeinschaftarbeiten, Aktionen, ed. by Gerhard Rühm . Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1967, pp. 736.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schuh Franz , “Das Material der Sprache” (1997), in: Dossier 15. Gerhard Rühm, ed. by Kurt Bartsch /Stefan Schwar . Graz: Droschl, 1999, pp. 1117.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Segeberg Harro , Literatur im Medienzeitalter. Literatur, Technik und Medien seit 1914. Darmstadt: WBG, 2003.

  • Vogel Juliane , “Auftritte, Vortritte, Rücktritte – Konrad Bayers theatrale Anthropologie,” in: Thomas Eder /Juliane Vogel , eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008, pp. 2938.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weibel Peter , “the vienna group in the international context,” in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel . Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, pp. 762782.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zeemann Dorothea , “Die neue Wiener Dichtergruppe” (1958), in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel . Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, p. 307.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
1

The first and by now canonical historiography of the group was presented by Rühm in 1967, together with a collection of texts by its five core members (Gerhard Rühm, “Vorwort,” in: Die Wiener Gruppe. Achleitner. Artmann. Bayer. Rühm. Wiener. Texte, Gemeinschaftsarbeiten, Aktionen, ed. by Gerhard Rühm. Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch, 1967, pp. 7–36).

2

Gerhard Rühm, “basics of the new theater” (1962), in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel. Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, pp. 620–624: here p. 620.

3

Ibid.

4

Ibid.

5

Ibid.

6

Rühm (1997), new theater, p. 622.

7

Ibid.

8

Rühm (1997), new theater, p. 624.

9

For some of the various formats, locations, and conceptual approaches cf. Thomas Eder/Juliane Vogel, eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008.

10

For a critical view on the canonisation of the Vienna Group see Sabine Müller, “Die Wiener Gruppe, wi(e)dererinnert. Zu einer historischen Gemengelage von kommunikativem Beschweigen, stilistischem Protest und Sprachskepsis,” in: Roman Horak et al., eds., Randzone. Zur Theorie und Archäologie von Massenkultur in Wien 1950–1970. Vienna: Turia+Kant, 2004, pp. 219–240.

11

Cf. Peter Weibel, “the vienna group in the international context,” in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel. Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, pp. 762–782: here pp. 777–781.

12

Rühm (1967), Vorwort, p. 27 assigns an important role to these scientific interests pursued by the group [he uses the German term Sprachwissenschaft].

13

This ‘research’ character of the Vienna Group’s work was first underlined by Dorothea Zeemann. In a newspaper review from June 1958 she spoke of “inquiries into language” [Untersuchungen an der Sprache] and “research of [word] constellations” [Beziehungsforschung]. Cf. Dorothea Zeemann, “Die neue Wiener Dichtergruppe” (1958), in: die wiener gruppe / the vienna group, ed. by Peter Weibel. Wien, New York, NY: Springer, 1997, p. 307.

14

As James Elkins points out, the formula „to the arts“ was coined by Herbert Read in the sense of developing artistic “techniques and materials” (“The PhD degree,” in: James Elkins, ed., What Do Artists Know?, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania University Press, pp. 103–121: here p. 119). As Elkins observes further, when Christopher Frayling presented his influential terminological distinction between „research into,“ „through,“ and “for art,” in 1993, he relied on Read but did not quite pick up the vantage point of “to art.” However, Dieter Mersch, Epistemologies of Aesthetics (2015), translated by Laura Radosh. Zurich: diaphanes, 2015, p. 50, suggests to apply the term “research for art” to technical inquiries in fields such as material science, chromatics, acoustics, etc., which prepare a “background against which artistic results can arise from drafts.”

15

For various positions in this debate cf. the contributions by Nina Malterud, German Toro-Pérez, Johann Öberg, Marcel Cobussen, and Michael Schwab in the first part of Corina Caduff et al., eds., Art and Artistic Research. Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2010, pp. 24–65.

16

The contribution by Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes in this volume reconstructs and analyses this historical development.

17

Rühm (1967), Vorwort, p. 7. emphasises the group’s strong interest in artistic movements from the inter-war period such as Expressionism, Surrealism, Dadaism, and Constructivism. Due to a belated reception and the National Socialist cultural policy, these artistic movements were hardly known in Austria even in the 1950’s. For some aspects of the controversial debate about the achievements and failures of so called “neo-avant-garde” literature, cf. Hans-Christian Kosler, “‘Neo-Avantgarde?’ Anmerkungen zur experimentellen Literatur,” in: W. Martin Lüdke, ed., ‘Theorie der Avantgarde.’ Antworten auf Peter Bürgers Bestimmung von Kunst und bürgerlicher Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976, pp. 252–267.

18

Florian Neuner/Stefan Neuner, “Zwischen Selbstorganisation und Selbstbehauptung,” in: Thomas Eder/Juliane Vogel, eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008, pp. 133–159, explore paradigmatic “conceptual” approaches such as programmatic writing or scientific, “mechanical” employment of language. Although they point out that Rühm only rarely followed these approaches (p. 153), their systematic examination allows to identify the few instances where the Vienna Group’s practices actually did overlap with conceptual art.

19

Some important observations on this political-aesthetic complex are provided by Kosler (1976), ‘Neo-Avantgarde?’, pp. 257–258. The classical study of National Socialism’s impact on German language remains Victor Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich. LTI: Lingua tertii imperii. A Philologist’s Notebook (1947), translated by Martin Brady. London, New York, NY: Continuum, 2006. Although Klemperer’s book was published little more than two years after the collapse of the German Reich, he already provided some examples of where and how elements of National Socialism language survived in post-war Germany and he suspected that it might take a long time to abandon National Socialism entirely (cf. p. 2, p. 13, and p. 44). For an overview on the political and cultural development in Austria and the unease it created among (some) upcoming writers, cf. Katherine Arens, Vienna’s Dreams of Europe. Culture and Identity beyond the Nation-State. New York, NY et al.: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2015, pp. 233–240.

20

Konrad Bayer, „karl ein karl“ (1962), in: Bayer, Sämtliche Werke. Vol. II: Prosa, Konkrete Texte, ed. by Gerhard Rühm. Stuttgart: Klett Cotta, 1985, pp. 86–88. Given the shortness of the text, I will not reference any individual quotes.

21

The term ‘concrete poetry’ seems to have been coined, in the 1950’s, by Eugen Gomringer—an assistant to the founder of Concrete Art, Max Bill—and the movement had further roots in Brazil (cf. Jamie Hilder, Designed Words for a Designed World. The International Concrete Poetry Movement. 1955–1971. Montreal, London, Chicago, IL: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016, pp. 5–8). Rühm (1967), Vorwort, pp. 23–24, details how he and other members of the group met Gomringer in 1956 and, for some time, participated in the international movement of ‘concrete poetry.’ When Rühm later edited Bayer (1985), Sämtliche Werke, he labeled “karl ein karl”—along with almost twenty more pieces—“concrete texts” (cf. p. 384).

22

As observed by Janet Boatin, Dichtungsmaschine aus Bestandteilen. Konrad Bayers Werk in einer Kulturgeschichte der frühen Informationsästhetik. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014, p. 25, this interpretative vantage point—which has come to dominate much of the secondary literature on the Vienna Group—can be traced back to Ernst Bloch’s comments on Bayer’s reading at the “Group 47” retreat in Salgau (in the Ulm area) in 1963.

23

From this interpretive angle the work of Bayer is explored in Boatin (2014), Dichtungsmaschine. For similar readings of texts by other members of the Vienna Group cf. Harro Segeberg, Literatur im Medienzeitalter. Literatur, Technik und Medien seit 1914. Darmstadt: WBG, 2003, pp. 258–269. Again, a point of reference was provided by Rühm himself, who, in hindsight, emphasizsed that the group had been fascinated by Surrealist theories of “écriture automatique” (cf. Franz Schuh, “Das Material der Sprache,” [1997], in: Dossier 15. Gerhard Rühm, ed. by Kurt Bartsch/Stefan Schwar. Graz: Droschl, 1999, pp. 11–17: here p. 13.)

24

Cf. Roman Jakobson, “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances” (1956), in: Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings. Vol. 2: Word and Language. The Hague, Paris: Mouton, 1971, pp. 239–259.

25

Jakobson is occasionally invoked in commentaries on works by the Vienna Group. For example, Michael Backes, Experimentelle Semiotik in Literaturavantgarden. Über die Wiener Gruppe mit Bezug auf die Konkrete Poesie. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2001, pp. 212–253, observes how Achleitner’s ‘concrete poetry’ undermines what Jacobson, in his seminal 1960 paper on “Lingustics and Poetics,” called the “poetic function” of language. In deviation from this approach, my reading of “karl ein karl” emphasises how Bayer seems to make productive certain aspects of Jakobson’s general theory of language.

26

Bayer sometimes employed a similar strategy when composing dramatic texts from seemingly unrelated sentences. Cf. Juliane Vogel, “Auftritte, Vortritte, Rücktritte – Konrad Bayers theatrale Anthropologie,” in: Thomas Eder/Juliane Vogel, eds., Verschiedene Sätze treten auf. Die Wiener Gruppe in Aktion. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay, 2008, pp. 29–38: here p. 36.

27

My political reading of “karl ein karl” aligns with the observation by Müller (2004), Wiener Gruppe, p. 229, according to which a passage about “silence” [Schweigen] in Bayer’s experimental novel der kopf des vitus bering (1958–60) is not so much addressing issues of epistemology or philosophy of language, but rather the “silence” about National Socialism that dominated political and cultural life in Austria at the time.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.